How does a theater company that produces some of the best Horror productions in Los Angeles one day decide to present original children's shows? You might be surprised. Director and writer Denise Devin talks about the humble beginnings of the Limecat Family Theatre and gives us the scoop on their latest holiday production, THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE MAKE A HOLIDAY WISH, opening December 2nd.
Denise, I know you love the Limecat shows. Did you ever worry in the beginning that parents wouldn't understand that these were family musicals and nothing like ZJU's signature Horror shows?
DD: For years, we kept the name Zombie Joe's Underground away from the Limecat, so that we wouldn't scare the parents or the kids. But now everyone is familiar with our work and they know how very different our Limecat shows and Horror shows are. Go figure, we are the experimental Horror theater with a very cute family theater banner! Our kid's shows are dear to our hearts and a true labor of love. The wild and crazy ZJU crew grew really fond of the Limecat and we found that parents made reservations the moment we sent them the flyer.
How did Limecat first begin?
DD: The Limecat started as an experiment about 8 or 9 years ago. A few of us were sitting around and someone said, "We should do a kid's show!" I was the Education Director for Diavolo Dance Theater for a couple of years, and others had similar backgrounds with educational theatre. I actually did not go further with the idea, but a few of our core members took up the idea and we presented CHICKEN LITTLE. It was not in the format that exists now - we didn't create a newer version of the tale, and the music wasn't original. But our scenic artist, Jeri Batzdorff, painted a beautiful wall mural on the back wall, and the cast pitched in and stepped up just like any of our other shows and the kids loved it. So...Limecat was born. We fell in love with the kids' energy and enthusiasm and now, ten original musicals later, we couldn't be happier.
Do you have a separate production staff for the shows?
DD: Zombie and I stepped in to lead the company and Jeri joined us providing amazing backdrops and specialty costumes. In the beginning we were using original lyrics but not music. Then, one day, composer/lyricist Chris Reiner said he would be interested in joining us, and the final Lead Directorship of the Limecat was formed.
Where do you get your ideas for the Limecat shows?
DD: The bulk of our musicals are original concepts taken from well-known stories or fables, with original (or at least 80% original) music and lyrics by Chris. We keep the main lesson or theme, and kernel of the story, and re-write everything else. I pick a fable or story idea that might be good or sometimes we come up with an original story idea. Then Zombie and I brainstorm some characters, situations, what the lesson might be, and then I sit down and write it. In the beginning, I also wrote some of the lyrics, but after a musical or two, Chris took over that department. I was relieved and thrilled.
Once you have the idea, what comes next?
DD: Chris, Zombie and I would meet over a first draft, and talk about music, tempos, and the main thrust for lyrics so that they could forward the story. Then I'd go away again and write it out. At the same time I would inform Jeri of the different characters, costume needs and backdrop. She really gets to shine here and she goes all out. Some of her pieces are works of art, literally, and we never want to paint over her colorful backdrops.
It's important to put together a well-balanced team, isn't it.
DD: The four of us always got along great, which was another blessing on the Limecat. I don't think I've ever been in any other partnership that was so successful. We were all busy, so everyone really focused on their part of the whole, and it all came together.
How did you come up with the name Limecat?
DD: It just kind of came to us. The walls at ZJU used to be lime green (I kind of miss them) and I always loved cats. One day Zombie came home and said "Limecat" and I thought, perfect. Jeri drew up the logo on a sheet of paper, we scanned it in, and have been using it ever since.
What can parents expect when they bring their family to see a Limecat musical?
DD: We don't talk down to the kids. We want them to feel truly entertained, and in a way that doesn't make them feel less than or not as important as adult theater. The stories must contain enough adult humor to keep the parents engaged. When I say adult, I mean very kid friendly adult, with a little bit of double meanings attached. It has been important that the Limecat be entertaining to all who come, even though geared to young ones. And there is always a lesson that is the heart of the story.